-- It's Thursday, which means another abbreviated and ugly slate, right? Wrong. Thursday's slate is a breath of fresh air. While only nine games are on the schedule, those nine contests are ripe with options. In addition to three hurlers garnering elite status, there are plenty of big names - Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels and David Price, to name a few - and a number of others filling up the middle tier as well. Thursdays like this don't come along very often, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Jose Fernandez comes in behind Jacob deGrom in terms of Game Score, but he's still the day's top option in my book. The right-hander leads baseball with a 13.1 K/9, which includes seven double-digit K games, and he's allowed more than two runs just twice in his last 13 outings. He faces a stiff test with a home matchup against the Cardinals, who sport an NL-best 114 wRC+ versus right-handed pitching this season and have scored the third-most runs in baseball. Then again, no other hurler on the day's slate can match Fernandez's floor and ceiling. He's not a must-play given the other options available, but investing in Fernandez is always money well spent.
In terms of matchup, deGrom finds himself in a more appealing spot with a home tilt against the Rockies. The Rox lineups is largely sapped of its powers away from Coors Field, as they sport a .294 road wOBA this season that ranks second-worst in baseball along with a 24 percent strikeout rate. While he doesn't have Fernandez's strikeout upside (who does?) and is whiffing less than a batter per inning, it's worth noting that he's posted a 10.3 K/9 over his last 11 starts. Fading Fernandez is always tough, but deGrom carries plenty of cash-game appeal.
Third in the elite-tier pecking order is Chris Sale, who returns to the mound after his five-game suspension for a clubhouse incident that involved cutting up some throwback uniforms. If there's a time to fade the White Sox lefty, this might be it. For one, the Cubs mash left-handed pitching, as they sport a 118 wRC+ versus southpaws that ranks second-best in baseball. Secondly, he's actually been a suspect cash option of late, having allowed five or more runs in three of his last seven starts. Finally, Sale's ceiling isn't what it once was now that he's pitching more to contact. I like Sale as a potential contrarian play in tournaments, but I'm looking elsewhere in cash.
Johnny Cueto is rock-solid when it comes to cash games. He's been terrific both at home (2.43 ERA) and on the road (2.63 ERA), and he's held an ERA of 3.00 or lower in each month this season. The Nationals may be one of the best team in the National League, but they've been below average versus righties (93 wRC+) and haven't put up much offense in the second half (84 wRC+). The Giants right-hander is definitely in play on Thursday.
If you're not paying up for one of the elite, investing in Julio Teheran makes a lot of sense. Since the beginning of May, Teheran holds a 2.15 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with an 8.1 K/9. Better yet, he's matching up against a Phillies offense that can't hit right-handed pitching (82 wRC+) and has been absolutely brutal since the All-Star break, sporting a 62 wRC+ and 25 percent whiff rate.
Cole Hamels draws a home start against Kansas City. The Royals are tough to strike out and are tougher on left-handed pitching than righties. That said, Hamels is getting them at the right time, as they've been striking out at a 22 percent clip in July with a 77 wRC+ that ranks worst in the American League. Outside of a pair of rough starts against the Twins in early July, the Texas lefty has allowed one or zero runs in his other six outings dating back to June 12.
Once one of the most stable options in DFS, John Lackey has stumbled a bit of late. Over his last six outings, he's been battered for a 6.38 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. So he can't be recommended for cash right now. That said, Lackey has been much better at Wrigley Field this year (2.84 ERA) than he's been on the road (4.68 ERA), and the White Sox can be exploited by right-handed pitching (87 wRC+), giving him some GPP appeal.
The Angels may sit dead-last in the AL West, but their offense has been stinging the ball lately. In addition to sporting a 121 wRC+ so far in July, the Angels have posted a 113 wRC+ versus lefty pitching this season. That puts David Price in a tough spot. The lefty hasn't proven to be a safe cash-game commodity this season, and the Angels don't strike out enough to make him a great GPP play despite his K/9 rate of 9.6.
Robbie Ray certainly has his limitations, but he also brings nice upside when the matchup is right. Such is the case on Thursday, when Ray lines up against a Brewers team that whiffs at a 24 percent clip versus lefties. For his part, Ray is whiffing 10.9 batters per nine, which ranks top-five in baseball. The southpaw makes for a fine GPP option and has some streaming appeal if you need strikeouts. He's available in 87 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Zach Davies has quietly put up some pretty good numbers. Since June 1, the right-hander has posted a 2.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 8.0 K/9. Against an Arizona team that's below average against righties (89 wRC+) and strikes out at a healthy 23 percent clip, there's definitely some streaming value here. His ESPN.com ownership sits at just 33 percent.
Aaron Nola has hit a rough patch. Dating back to his June 11 start against Washington, the righty is 0-7 with a 10.61 ERA and 2.04 WHIP in seven starts. In those seven starts, he allowed five or more runs five times. A matchup against the Braves, which own the worst offense in baseball against right-handed pitching (75 wRC+), creates a glimmer of hope for DFS players. Even so, the cake matchup isn't enough for me to trust the Phillies' right-hander on Thursday.
It's been a rough season for Jered Weaver, who owns a 5.32 ERA and has been hit hard by both right- (.375 wOBA) and left-handed hitters (.350 wOBA). It just so happens that the Red Sox, the best offense in baseball against right-handed pitching, are coming to town. They'll be pricey, but this is a great stacking opportunity.
Left-handed Baltimore bats should be on the radar against Kyle Gibson, one of the weakest pitchers on the slate. Chris Davis is the obvious play here, though Pedro Alvarez, switch-hitter Matt Wieters and Hyun Soo Kim, who's batting .355 versus right-handed pitching, are in the mix as well.
With Ubaldo Jimenez taking the mound for the Orioles on Thursday, it's a good time to load on Twins bats. Jimenez has been abysmal this season, posting 7.38 ERA in 18 games and 5.5 BB/9. Left-handed bats in particular have tattooed him for a .425 wOBA.
We already highlighted Robbie Ray as a high-upside streaming option, but the fact remains that right-handed hitters have hit him pretty well in his career and Miller Park inflates power for right-handers. Jonathan Villar, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter are all in play here.
Most likely to go yard: David Ortiz
Let's go with Ortiz, who has hit 21 of his 24 homers this season off righties and is facing a pitcher (Weaver) who has had homer issues.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Mookie Betts
We'll double-up on Boston hitters, who draw a perfect 10 steals rating against Weaver. Betts it he most likely wreak havoc on the basepaths in this one.